ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gov. Martin O’Malley, hours after legislative leaders finished what they are calling the biggest session of their long careers, signed legislation aimed at job creation on Tuesday, leaving a number of high-profile measures to be signed later.
Gun control legislation, a repeal of the death penalty, the state’s first gas tax increase in 20 years and a major Baltimore schools funding bill all were left for later. On Tuesday, though, O’Malley signed one of his marquee environmental proposals to help develop offshore wind. It was the third try for O’Malley, after the bill failed in two previous sessions.
“The heart of all new job creation really is innovation, innovation in terms of the things we make and how we make them — in this case renewable energy,” the Democrat said.
The proposal, which is expected to take years to develop, would increase monthly electricity bills for residential ratepayers by an estimated $1.50 a month, once energy is produced. Commercial ratepayers could see increases up of up to 1.5 percent.
That brought sharp criticism from Maryland Republicans, who describe it as one of the world’s most expensive forms of electricity. Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Cecil County Republican who is one of O’Malley’s chief critics in Annapolis, said the bill would have the opposite effect on jobs by discouraging businesses from being in Maryland. Like the Democratic presiding officers, Pipkin used superlatives to describe what had just happened, although with the opposite outlook.
“It’s absolutely sad that he calls it a jobs day when he just signed the biggest jobs killer in the state’s history,” Pipkin said.
House Speaker Michael, D-Anne Arundel, said there were a variety of bills this session that could have been a highlight in normal years, but were more in the backdrop due to the significant and difficult pieces of legislation that passed. The speaker described the session as “probably one of the most productive sessions that any governor or any General Assembly has had in my 27 years in Annapolis. “
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, who has presided over the Senate since 1987 and is the state’s longest serving Senate president, said it was “probably the most successful legislative session of my lifetime.”
O’Malley, who is considering a presidential run in 2016, has been focusing on job creation for years. On Tuesday, he signed a bill that makes $4.5 million available for an employer-driven skills training program to help residents get jobs that are available in the state, but often are hard to fill due to a lack of qualified applicants. The measure, which was boosted by $2 million from O’Malley’s initial proposal, is focusing on manufacturing, construction, health care and cyber technology jobs, based on discussions with business leaders.
“They said we actually have lots of jobs in Maryland, but we can’t fill them because the workforce, they’re not quite at the levels that we need to maximize our productivity,” said Leonard Howie, Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
O’Malley also signed a bill to better facilitate public-private partnerships by creating a streamlined process for the private sector to take part in building public roads or buildings. Maryland already has such a partnership at the Port of Baltimore, and the O’Malley administration wants to encourage more. State estimates have projected additional partnerships could contribute up to 6 to 10 percent of Maryland’s $3.1 billion annual capital budget and create as many as 4,000 jobs.
“It’s not just transportation infrastructure, but it’s a lot of non-transportation infrastructure,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said. “We have tremendous needs in Maryland, and this public-private partnership is going to go a long way in meeting those needs.”
O’Malley also signed a bill to allow casinos to stop disqualifying people seeking jobs, if they have committed “crimes of moral turpitude” or broken gambling laws in the last seven years. The measure was introduced by lawmakers from Baltimore, where a large casino is going to be built.
The governor also signed a number of tax credits in hopes of boosting economic development. The Research and Development Tax Credit was increased by 25 percent to $8 million to attract additional investment in Maryland companies. The state’s Biotechnology Tax Credit was increased by $2 million to $10 million. The state’s film production tax credit more than tripled to $25 million for the next fiscal year. It will return to $7.5 million for fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
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